Some very poor journalism from Bernard Keane at Crikey:
In all the coverage of the AUKUS announcement and the government’s continuing criticisms of China, one question has received too little attention: why has Australia gone from the Tony Abbott Coalition hosting Xi Jinping in the Parliament in 2014 to celebrate a trade deal to now pursuing a new Cold War with China?
It’s a difficult question not merely for the Coalition, which feted Xi and denounced any criticism of the trade deal as racist, but for its supporters at News Corp, which lauded the deal as a major historical event and the entry of Australia into a close “orbit” of China — rather like AUKUS has now been declared a key moment in Australian history.
The primary response from China hawks is that Xi somehow began unmasking himself after 2014 — though not so quickly that, in early 2017, the Turnbull government wasn’t seeking to ratify an extradition treaty.
But Xi is said to have dramatically ramped up his interference in Australia, to have escalated cyber attacks, to have become more aggressive in the South China Sea, and to have unleashed “wolf warrior” diplomats.
The problem with this narrative is that, even if correct, it was merely a change of degree, not kind, and certainly not some surprising revelation. Anyone who witnessed Chinese government-orchestrated attacks on protesters against the Beijing Games torch relay in 2008 couldn’t have been in any doubt as to the willingness of Beijing to interfere in Australia. And anyone who saw the eagerness of both sides of politics to receive donations from Chinese billionaires with connections to the Chinese Communist Party could have been in no doubt about the willingness of both to overlook that interference.
And China significantly increased in aggression in the South China Sea several years before Abbott’s trade deal and its program of militarisation in that area drew criticism from the United States in 2015. As for a ramping up of Chinese cyber-aggression — seriously? Journalists were able to accumulate lists of the greatest hits of Chinese hackers in 2010, the year before China was known to be behind the hacking of prime minister Julia Gillard’s email account and accessing cabinet material.
Certainly China became dramatically more aggressive in trade terms, binning the trade deal and slapping tariffs on Australian imports other than iron ore, but that was mostly in response to Australia’s (wholly justified) call for an investigation into the circumstances of the spread of the coronavirus, just as earlier criticism from China had been prompted by Australia’s (again, wholly justified, if clumsily implemented) foreign interference laws and the exclusion of Huawei from telecommunications infrastructure.
But nothing accounts for near-total reversal of Australian policy from near-fawning Sinophilia to a new Cold War, with Australia needing to embrace nuclear power to ward off Chinese aggression.
Who drove this reversal? Much of it has come from the most secretive and unaccountable area of the federal government, our intelligence and security agencies, which have escalated warnings about the threat of China publicly and via friendly journalists — and, purely coincidentially, enjoyed significant increases in funding from taxpayers as a consequence.
Much of it has been directed against the pro-Beijing influence of a sycophantic business community, who have no concerns about anything Beijing does provided they can keep making money, and their media mouthpieces like The Australian Financial Review. The security establishment has defeated the business establishment in influencing Australia’s attitude to China.
And much of the reversal has been driven by the domestic political needs of the Coalition and its main media ally, News Corp, which is why Labor was attacked as being Sinophobic a few years ago and is now portrayed as too soft on China.
But in the absence of a convincing rationale for such a comprehensive reversal, Australians — and other governments — are justified in wondering what the core driver of foreign policy under the Morrison government that has remained consistent when entirely opposite outcomes have resulted — or whether those outcomes are simply the result of the vicissitudes of an ongoing contest between different parts of the governing class for influence.
There has been one consistent theme of both Coalition and Labor foreign policy: a willing embrace of a role in the US military machine.
Australia has much to offer the US by way of its geography. We have long provided a southern hemisphere base for global surveillance and espionage operations, a welcoming port for the US navy and, increasingly, a base for US troops — an initiative of Labor under Gillard. Traditionally we have brought less in the way of manpower and hardware to US military adventurism — our contribution to Iraq was risible and we struggled to deliver even that — but under AUKUS we’ll eventually pay for a fleet of submarines effectively under US control and based, handily, in the region to be contested with China.
Australia’s future as a giant spy station/naval stop/permanent aircraft carrier/junior sheriff for the US military appears assured. But at what point will its economic interests reassert themselves, led by an influential business lobby, or will domestic political considerations prompt a re-embrace of China? Will Australia be feting Xi in 2025, complete with welcome op-eds about being pulled into China’s orbit?
Deary me. Where has Bernard been?
The history of the collapse of the relationship is very clear:
- In 2011 China began its reform programs away from a commodity-centric growth model that crashed our terms of trade, as well as its push into militarisation of the South China Sea.
- Australia ignored the rise of a tyrannical Xi and responded by seeking deeper economic integration in services like education and property.
- But this resulted in huge waves of political corruption in everything that it touched.
- The turning point was the Dastayari Affair in 2017 when an Aussie pollie sold his foreign policy views to a Chinese agent of influence and was sacked for it. The Turnbull Government responded with anti-foreign influence legislation. Repeated spy and corruption scandals followed and we banned Huawei.
- Donald Trump was elected POTUS in the same year and finally woke the world to dodgy Chinese trade practices, as well as strategic competition.
- China unleashed economic coercion policies upon Australia in 2019 as we cleaned house of Chinese corruption. Then it unleashed the pandemic and wolf warriors in 2020.
- When none of that buckled Australia, China released its 14 demands to end democracy:
- The result was a special session for Australia at the G7 and AUKUS.
This is straight cause and effect as an illberal empire progressively moved to take over a liberal commodity supplier in contradiction with everything that it stood for.
Hatred of Murdoch and the Coalition should not blind one to basic historical fact. Sometimes even they get something right, if only in self-interest or by accident.
Stop listening to Guy Rundle, your delusional, racist, communist stablemate.